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Fuel, forex scarcity, runway closure has crippled our operations


By Chinelo Obogo, Lagos

The Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON) has said that the current JetA1, forex scarcity and the closure of the domestic runway (18L) of Murtala Muhammed Airport (MMA), Lagos, have crippled their ability to continue operations.

In a statement from the spokesperson, Obiora Okonkwo, the AON said the continuous rise in the price of aviation fuel and supply is epileptic and unpredictable at several airports across the country, thereby causing flight delays and cancellations.

The body called on the Federal Government to look critically at the issues raised in the statement as they affect the scarcity and cost of aviation fuel and foreign exchange so as to find ways of ameliorating the problems that are likely to cause a shutdown of the sector.

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“The Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON) would like to notify the general public that the JetA1 crisis which began in late February and deteriorated further through the months of March to May, has further worsened and currently threatening the ability of airlines to continue operations. The price of JetA1 rose suddenly from N200 in December 2021 to over N400 per litre in February. Today the price has skyrocketed to over N800 per litre.

“On top of the continuous rise in the price of Aviation fuel, supply is at best epileptic and unpredictable at several airports across the country thereby causing flight delays, and even cancellations, as airlines queue for fuel at airports across the country.

“Added to the already difficult situation, is the high cost and scarcity of foreign exchange. It is pertinent to note that airlines carry out most of their activities in US dollars which today sells for N630 to $1; and is sadly also, in short supply. To say the least, airlines are in a ‘life and death’ struggle to secure the foreign exchange that they urgently need to acquire spare parts to ensure the regular routine and scheduled maintenance of aircraft. This is a major influence on how quickly a grounded aircraft can be fixed and restored for flight operations, which impacts greatly on the reliability of schedules, growth of the industry and economic growth and sustainability,” AON said.

The body also said the decision taken by the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) at very short notice to airlines has further crippled their operations by causing unsustainable additional operating costs and severely inconveniencing the airlines and passengers.

It said the closure of the main domestic runway of MMA automatically adds an additional 10-15% more fuel costs per sector into and out of the domestic airport in Lagos, based on the additional flight and taxi time incurred as a result.

“The reality of the situation in the industry is exacerbated by the action of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), which in a NOTAM of July 5, 2022, announced the closure of the domestic runway (18L) of Murtala Muhammed Airport (MMA), Ikeja, beginning July 8, 2022. The closure is for a period of 90 days.

“In the face of the heavy burden already inflicted on airlines by the worsening Jet A1 crisis, it is most unfortunate that FAAN chose this period to close the runway. The ill-timed and unfortunate decision taken at very short notice to airlines has further crippled air transport operations by causing unsustainable additional operating costs and severely inconveniencing the airlines and passengers.

“The closure of the main domestic runway of MMA automatically adds an additional 10-15% more fuel costs per sector into and out of the domestic airport in Lagos, based on the additional flight and taxi time incurred as a result. The airlines have already felt these additional costs within the first week of the closure of the runway. This unnecessary burden is unsustainable for a 3-month period on the airlines; especially for the fact that the JetA1 crisis has worsened significantly and the situation remains unpredictable.

“Moreover, the additional 30 minutes taxi time to the apron forced on the airlines by the closure of runway 18L impacts negatively on schedule reliability to sunset airports around the country leading to delays and cancellation of late flights to such airports.

“While we welcome the effort by FAAN to install runway lighting on Runway 18L after being delayed for so long, it is pertinent to state that international best practice for such critical airfield infrastructure projects is for the airport operator to enter into discussions with all affected parties, to arrive at an optimal arrangement that allows the work to be done while limiting the inconvenience, economic impact and safety implications on all concerned.

“Going forward, the Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON) wish to use the medium to graciously show appreciation to the Federal Government of Nigeria, and leadership of the National Assembly, especially the Committees on Aviation, for their concern, and previous interventions, which led to a mutually beneficial and cost-effective three-month aviation fuel supply window through the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). That intervention greatly impacted on the aviation sector and solved what would have been a major national embarrassment.

“However, the issue is yet to be fully and generously resolved. We, therefore, call on the Federal Government to, once again, look critically at the issues raised in the statement as they affect the scarcity and cost of aviation fuel and foreign exchange so as to find ways of ameliorating the problems that are likely to cause a shutdown of this very nationally essential service sector, which had contributed, and continues to contribute, to national economic development through jobs creation, taxes and increased commercial activities,” AON said.

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